Learning to Let the Garden Grow
They are beautiful when they sleep, curled around their favorite blanket and stuffed animals, these children of ours, folded like flowers at night protecting their precious selves.
Author Ellen Cantarow, in an essay almost 30 years ago, said: "Making the decision to have a child - it's momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body."
Children change everything. They hijack your life, really. The last time I changed jobs, I didn't have children, so I could afford to be selfish.
That isn't the case once the bassinet begins rocking. As my wife and I contemplated a new job and relocating here, it involved calculation that extended far beyond what was best for my career or the two of us.
Weighting the decision: How are the schools? What are the parks like? Where are the kid-populated neighborhoods?
Really, we didn't need a house. We needed a home.
As Leslie and I drove through neighborhoods, we noted driveway basketball hoops and backyard play sets. And if we saw kids playing outside, that block received extra credit.
We expected this process could take a couple of months. In all our time in Greensboro, we were never fortunate to live on a street with a lot of kids running around. There was one family across the street with a daughter a bit older than ours, but they moved out of state just a year or so after moving in. Playmates were limited to school and summers at the pool.
Good fortune graced us. After just a week, we found a home in a newer section of Pinehurst. Early intelligence indicated some kids on the block. We didn't know ages or boy-girl ratio, but we had a good feeling.
In those first few hours after the moving truck rolled away, it took just a trip to the curb to realize the extent of our good fortune.
A girl our daughter's age lived two doors down. A slightly younger girl lived two houses up. Another girl a year younger lived across the street. Better, she had a brother almost our son's age. Buddies!
Children don't need much coaxing to make their own magic, and that quickly became the case here. And when I say quickly, I mean within a minute we were hearing, "Mom? Dad? Can Nolan come see my room?"
Fast-forward a few days later. It is dusk. My wife and I are chatting with another set of parents in our driveway as the four kids holler and make up games in the front yard. Another new-to-the-neighborhood mom comes walking up with the family dog and similar-aged children.
Like watching cell division under a microscope, four running, screaming children become six. And then, following the natural order of childhood, boys and girls split off and commenced mutual chasing and hilarity, using an oversized green playground ball and flashlight.
In that moment, I relaxed and smiled. If I was nervous about my family finding the right fit for our new life, then that was crossed off the list.
With friends now at the ready, our children's universe is expanding, and it doesn't always include us as it has had to in the past. It's not quite like the old days, when our parents would dispatch us from the house in the morning and expect to see us only at lunch and then dinner. We had a lump-in-the-throat moment one night when we went across the street to collect the kids and found they weren't there. They'd gone - without permission - to another friend's house. That earned a new lecture.
But options abound now for our kids. Our son has begun his first organized sport - coach-pitch baseball - and our daughter will likely be trying out for one of the local swim teams soon.
In this, I realize, we've all started something. The kids are taking their first steps toward the paths that will mark their own lives. Pretty soon, we will start to see less of our children as they open their arms, embrace the bigger world and go walking outside of us.
That's OK. That's our job as parents. It's left me appreciating more the pre-dawn quiet, when I can hear the whippoorwills calling from the woods, just beyond the garden where, for now, the folded flowers sleep.
John Nagy is editor of The Pilot. Contact him at (910) 693-2507 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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